Project SHAD – An Update

Dr. William Winkenwerder is the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. On July 9, 2002, he announced an expansion of the Shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD) investigation.

“DoD has an obligation to all service members – past and present – to keep them informed of any event during their military career that might threaten their health. We are committed to providing the Veterans Administration with the medically relevant information as quickly and efficiently as possible,” he said, as he revealed that team of investigators will travel to Dugway Proving Ground in mid-August to review Deseret Test Center records.

According to Department of Defense sources, The Shipboard Hazard and Defense program was a subset of Project 112, a chemical and biological weapons vulnerability-testing program conducted by the Deseret Test Center from 1963 to 1969. The tests consisted of joint exercises involving the Army’s Deseret Test Center, several Army and Navy vessels and Marine Corps and Air Force aircraft. Some veterans have expressed concern that they may have been exposed to harmful substances during these classified tests.

To date, the Pentagon has published 12 fact sheets that chronicle ships and units involved in the tests, when the tests took place, and the substances to which the crews may have been exposed. So far, according to the DoD, investigators have identified approximately 2,700 to 2,800 service members involved in these 12 tests, many in more than one test.

In earlier articles, I discussed the origins of Project SHAD and some of its ramifications (see “Project SHAD – Lesson from a Secret Experiment,” DefenseWatch, Apr. 10, 2002, and “Secret Tests May Have Harmed Over 2,000 Sailors,” DefenseWatch, Apr. 24, 2002). The most critical element in these articles was the astonishing fact that the DoD seemed to be dragging its feet on conducting the investigation, and appeared reluctant to release information it clearly already had.

Through its spokesman, Winkenwerder, the DoD now says that declassification of ship and personnel information for an additional 17 SHAD tests is under way. The DoD expects to publish additional fact sheets in early fall. According to the DoD, the work to be done at Dugway in August will complete the investigation of all Project 112 tests conducted by the Deseret Test Center.

Earlier reports from inside the DoD and elsewhere indicated that Project SHAD covered many more than these 29 acknowledged tests. From emails received here at DefenseWatch and from published news reports across the nation, it appears that the extent of these tests far exceeded the limited scope of the current DoD investigation. In fact, they have only revealed the tip of the iceberg.

During my investigation, on several occasions I discovered that the official reports regarding the location and deployment of vessels involved in these tests differed remarkably from the locations reported by crew members who actually sailed on these vessels during the same period. Since we are talking about events that happened forty years ago, it is entirely possible that Seaman Jones might have forgotten whether he was cruising off Charleston or Norfolk on any particular day. It is completely unreasonable, however, to believe that Jones was mistaken about which coast he was cruising. Most of us do know the difference between San Diego and Boston.

I remain reluctant to accuse the DoD of deliberately obfuscating the problem. I recognize that many of the records are very difficult to obtain and correlate, especially so since all this happened before the computerization of military records. Nevertheless, it appears that those assigned to get the facts are depending on only these official reports. They seem to be expending heroic effort to unearth records wherever they may be stashed, but I see no indication that anyone is attempting to gather information from still living crew members themselves, in order to establish the actual events.

Sen. Max Cleland, D-GA, chairman of the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee, recently announced that he will investigate whether the Pentagon intended to use American sailors as human guinea pigs during the 1960s testing of chemical weapons aboard Navy ships.

Cleland, a veteran who lost both legs and an arm in a Vietnam grenade blast, says he is pushing for open hearings, but the Pentagon is insisting that some of the material stay classified.

I find it difficult to understand why something tested nearly half a century ago still needs to remain classified. The health and welfare of several thousand affected veterans is infinitely more important than keeping a secret that no longer matters.

Winkenwerder says, “We plan to augment staff as needed to finish this task efficiently and quickly. We owe our SHAD veterans resolution to events that took place four decades ago.”

To date the Veterans Administration has sent notification letters to only about 600 identified participants. A cursory investigation reveals several thousand other affected participants who should be notified as well. It is time to pull all the stops and investigate Project SHAD in complete open detail.

Every day SHAD participants die, some for reasons that may very well be related to these experiments. It is time for the DoD to acknowledge its responsibility and to assign this investigation the highest priority. Investigators must examine the entire record, not just the military records stashed away in dusty archives. Crew members must be interviewed and their statements correlated by a central office until a complete picture emerges, and we know what really happened up and down our coasts on so many vessels to thousands of unwitting participants during this shameful chapter in our country’s military history.

Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor

Submariner, diver, scientist, author & adventurer. 22 mos underwater, a yr in the equatorial Pacific, 3 yrs in the Arctic, and a yr at the South Pole. BS Marine Physics & Meteorology, PhD in Engineering. Authors non-fiction, Cold War thrillers, and hard science fiction. Lives in Centennial, CO.

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